Moving into a college residence hall — with people you have never met and in an unfamiliar city — can be a stressful experience in its own right. Throwing the threat of a pandemic into the mix does not soften the blow.
Through these looming complications, University Housing and the Residence Hall Association at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln continue to find ways to foster community and safety in on-campus housing.
“We want to maintain safety for everyone,” Schramm Hall president and member of RHA Oscar Canizales said. “But with this virus, it all comes down to common decency.”
Many changes have been made to housing for the fall semester, including revised housing contracts, new sanitation policies and campus-wide face covering requirements.
Housing contracts may have seen the largest change, as students will have two room and board contracts this academic year rather than the single contract from years before. Fall contracts span Aug. 14 to Nov. 26, and the spring contracts span Jan. 8 to May 8, according to the 2020-2021 Housing Contract Addendum.
“We are not sure how COVID-19 will impact our student population,” Charlie Francis, senior director of Housing and Dining Services said. “Our contract revisions aim to offer increased flexibility while providing adequate planning.”
While the university encourages students that have the capability of returning home to not return to the university between the fall and spring semesters, students are not required to move out of on-campus housing at the end of the fall semester in November, according to the FAQ.
If a resident plans to leave campus for 30 days, which includes the intermediate period between fall and spring semester, they can leave their belongings in their room, which guarantees them the same room and bed upon return to campus.
Students who decide to not pay the $150 storage fee or choose to remove their belongings for the period of time where they do not reside in University Housing are not guaranteed the same room upon return.
Partial storage fees are to be prorated, according to the Housing Contract Addendum. Students who do not plan to return for the spring semester can also take this option and have a safe space for their belongings until their contract ends on May 8, 2021.
If a student leaves campus but pays the storage fee for the interim period, University Housing has stated it does not anticipate a rooming shift, such as a new roommate assignment or room change, barring unforeseen circumstances, according to the FAQ.
If students make the decision to move-out, they will be under a new contract when they return for the spring.
All rooms will have beds spaced at least 6 feet apart, according to the “Forward to Fall Guiding Framework.” While lofting beds is allowed, bunking beds is not.
All students living in University Housing should have received a “Stay Healthy, Huskers” bag, which included two Nebraska-themed face coverings, one hand sanitizer, a thermometer, bandages and antiseptic wipes, according to the framework.
The bag also includes a magnet from the University Health Center that contains its contact information, as well as COVID-19 symptoms and information about the 1-Check COVID screening app.
The app was developed by the University of Nebraska Medical Center with assistance from students at University of Nebraska Omaha.
Housing staff will disinfect and clean high-touch points, including public and high-traffic student areas and residence hall bathrooms, twice a day, Francis said.
According to the framework, custodial and building system employees have undergone training directly related to COVID-19 in order to maximize efficiency and safety.
Study rooms and lounges will also be frequently sanitized and have limited capacities, and plexiglass barriers have been installed to reduce contact at residential service desks, according to Francis. For student safety, hand sanitizer stations have been installed near the residence halls’ high-traffic areas, such as elevators.
As recommended in the rules and expectations of the University Housing website, residents are allowed to have guests, but the residents are encouraged to physically distance by 6 feet or more, wash their hands frequently and gather in small groups.
Face coverings are required for all students, visitors, faculty and staff in residence halls, though exceptions include when a student is in their assigned residence hall room, eating or alone in a room, according to Tony Rathgeber, assistant director of housing conference services at the university.
Employees, students or visitors who refuse to follow UNL’s face covering policy may be directed to leave a campus space and may be subject to disciplinary procedures.
Even with aplenty implemented proposals, Canizales said one of his concerns is ensuring students follow the guidelines. He said his concerns reflect the differing opinions on how to treat the virus and the ongoing debate whether to wear a face mask or not.
Despite these concerns, Canizales said he remains hopeful for the completion of the school year in person.
“My hope is strong. I can’t say 100% because there’s going to be those who violate [the guidelines], but it all comes down to common decency,” Canizales said. “I feel strongly that the majority of people will hopefully follow these guidelines.”